This post was inspired by Adrian Holliday’s blog post “Why we should stop using native-non-native-speaker labels” and Geoff Jordan’s reply. It has been about five years since I reviewed the literature on the native-non-native-speaker dichotomy, so I wanted to review what more recent research had to say. I found two articles (Aneja, 2016; Choi, 2016) that both investigated the phenomenon known as native-speakerism, which was coined by Adrian Holliday over a decade ago. Since this term is important to understand the perspective of both papers, I recommend reading Holliday’s (2014) in-depth explanation of the term and its ideology at http://adrianholliday.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/nism-encyc16plain-submitted.pdf. For a bite of the idea, here’s a bit from the abstract:
Native-speakerism is a neo-racist ideology that has wide-ranging impact on how teachers are perceived by each other and by their students. By labelling teachers as separate ‘native speakers’ and ‘non-native speakers’, it falsely positions them as culturally superior and inferior with separate roles and attributes. While Western in origin, native-speakerism is present across the profession and results in employment discrimination and a divisive professional discourse.
Rationale for the Studies
Of the two studies, Aneja’s (2016) is the more theoretical in its purpose as she used poststructuralist insights from identity theory, social theory, and critical applied linguistics to reflect on her participants’ perceptions of the dichotomy of native speaker and non-native speaker. She also introduces a new term into the ELT lexicon: (non)native-speakering, which she defines as:
a poststructural orientation that denaturalizes (non)native speakerist ideologies and argues that (non)native speakered subjectivities (abstract, idealized notions of native and nonnative speakers) are historically grounded as well as constructed over time through the discursive practices of individuals and institutions; …individuals are not native or nonnative speakers per se, but rather are (non)native speakered with respect to different characteristics, through different institutional mechanisms, individual performances, and social negotiations
Choi’s (2016) study is more narrow in scope, exploring how native-like English competence has been idealized in large-scale language socialization institutions, specifically focusing on the perceptions 20 Korean graduate student participants and their experiences in South Korea and in a large Midwestern university. Similar to Choi, Aneja (2016) investigates graduate students, but instead of being similar in sociocultural background, her participants are similar in their field of study–language education.
Both studies used qualitative methods to collect their data. Aneja (2016) had a wider assortment of qualitative data for her lower number of participants: audio recordings, observational field notes, participants’ written work, three semi-structured interviews, monthly focus groups, and conversations with one of the participants’ professors. Choi’s (2016) data included interviews, daily observations, and recordings of naturally occurring conversations of her participants. Both of these studies were part of larger studies as doctoral students at their respective universities.
Unlike Choi’s participants, Aneja’s (2016) participants were diverse in terms of their background: Oliver is Han Chinese, April is a white American, Mark is an African American, and Neha is from India with English as her L1. In this sense, only Oliver would classify as a non-native speaker although many people perceived Neha as a non-native speaker when she came to the United States. Because Mark uses African American vernacular, only April’s speech would be considered standard American English. So these four participants challenge the native speaker/non-native speaker dichotomy.
Through her analysis, Aneja (2016) discusses the racialization of the native speaker, also known as othering. She also points out that the identity categories her participants use and acknowledge are grounded in nation-state/colonial governmentality. For me, this means that native speakers can be identified by their race (appearance) and by their passport. Those who do not fit these descriptors risk marginalization or “dis-citizenship in the field of TESOL” (p. 588).
Aneja (2016) also discusses that her participants intentionally alter their communicative practices to align with or deviate from the norms of the contexts in which they find themselves. Additionally, her participants’ social interpellation, recognition, naming, and valuing of language varieties is integral to constructing their identity. For example, both Oliver and Mark devalue the use of African American Vernacular in the classroom. Because of its devaluation, Oliver then is skeptical of its use, and Mark marginalizes his own language practices, calling his own use of “standard” English “broken.”
Choi’s (2016) analysis discusses how many of the study’s participants reject the imposed label of non-native English speakers and how they reject the imposed goal of becoming “native-like” English speakers. Instead, they attempt to reconstruct “ideal” and “authentic” bilingual competence. Although Choi’s participants acknowledge that the label of non-native speaker can marginalize them, they did not experience any difficulties because of this status. More interestingly and unique to this study is that many of the participants chose not to invest their time and effort in acquiring culturally specific knowledge as part of communicative competence. Their rationale was culturally specific knowledge is only important if one wants to become a core member of North American society. In the literature review, Choi shares how trying too hard to adapt to American culture can make one seem as a faker or poser, covering up one’s linguistic or academic deficiencies with a stronger knowledge of the local culture. For these participants, Academic English is the goal. “Authentic” bilingual competence, in this case, is using English for Academic purposes and knowing when to use a certain language or language varieties outside of academic contexts. Choi posits that the ideal is the bilingual international professor who demonstrates this competence rather than the native speaker ideal.
What can teachers do?
First of all, these are two studies with a total of twenty-four graduate students, three of which use English as their L1. These studies illustrate the extent to which the labels of native speaker and non-native speaker can, but not necessarily do, impact teaching and learning English. Aneja’s study provides a contrast with Oliver’s perspective that supports some aspects of native-speakerism, especially concerning accent. I believe his voice represents many in the industry (as opposed to the profession) of English language teaching.
Aneja (2016) recommends that teachers change how we “do language” and position our students by undoing the “hidden curriculum” and exploring and enacting multiple identity possibilities. Starting on page 591 of the paper, she suggests the following:
- Undo the “Hidden Curriculum”
- Resist the reification of these ideologies
- Raise awareness of language and teacher education books and courses and critically conscious of how they may be complicit in re-creating racialized, nationalized, or other monolithic conceptualizations of language or (non)native speakers
- Encourage students and teachers to notice which races and cultures are presented; the contexts, situations, jobs, or roles in which they are portrayed, and the ideologies implicit in such depictions
- Legitimize ways of being that resist a monolithic presentation of legitimate or “correct” English: presenting talks or articles produced by scholars from diverse backgrounds, encouraging students to rethink what it means to be an English speaker
- Explore and Enact Multiple Identity Possibilities
- Create spaces within our own classrooms in which teacher candidates can explore and enact multiple and fluid identity possibilities
- Teacher candidates can conduct mini-autoethnographies discovering how their language practices and therefore their performed identities, change in different contexts or with different interlocutors
- Complete a final paper using a translingual writing style to make an academic and pedagogical point
- Advocate for a critical pedagogical awareness that promotes particularity, practicality, and possibility while resisting mechanisms that uncritically reify the superiority of the English native speaker
These suggestions are laudatory and possible in schools that support the professionalization of English language teaching. However, many if not most teachers find themselves in schools are ignorant of native-speakerism, profit from native-speakerism, or both. Teachers in these contexts must understand that undoing the hidden curriculum in these schools may cost them their jobs. I recommend that English language teachers find support from one another and join or create professional teaching organizations.
Aneja, G.A. (2016). (Non)native speakered: Rethinking (non)nativeness and teacher identity in TESOL teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 572-596.
Choi, L.J. (2016). Revisiting the issue of native speakerism: ‘I don’t want to speak like a native speaker of English.’ Language and Education, 30(1), 72-85.
Holliday, A. R. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.